I wanted to do a blog entry that talked a little about sanding, since some carvers may not be familiar with all of these accessories.It may also be useful info for other woodworkers who do some shaping on boxes and such. Some carvers prefer not to sand, leaving a more rustic hand-carved look. Certain styles of carving do stress clean cuts and I also prefer to cut as much as possible before starting to sand. But one of the things that I feel has improved my carvings or at least their appearance, was using different methods to give my carvings a more finished professional look. That can include various finishes and bases that help a carving be perceived as art, but one of the major improvements I feel I have made was in sanding. I have almost as many gadgets for sanding as I do for carving! One of the main reasons I first bought a flex-shaft rotary tool was so that I could use sanding accessories at a slower speed than my old Dremel single-speed. I started with a HF model and added a Foredom hand-piece that would let me use accessories with a 1/4” shaft.
One of my favorite tools is this small cushioned drum sander. I can can cut what ever grit of cloth backed sandpaper I want and the cushioning is great for sanding contours without marks. It has made a tremendous difference in my carvings.
I also love my 3M Sotchbrite bristle discs. I stack 3 or more on a little mandrel and use them to remove fuzz in crevices in addition to doing some gentle shaping. I like to carve shallow wrinkles on faces and use these discs to soften them up and make them look real. I use them the same way on fur, hair, and beards. Amazing effects and available in different grits.
I use my Dremel type drum sanders some, but a trick I learned was to not put the sleeve all the way on or to use sleeves that are too long for the drum you have. The part that overhangs then has some flex to it that works great in sanding different contours, but still has the hardness for rough shaping.
I use some inexpensive HF cone sanders for rough shaping and removing coarse marks. They are sooo cheap and work well! They are the largest I have and use a 1/4” screw mandrel. I find myself using the cone more than the cylinder.
The Marsh cone sander lets you use different grits of sanding material. I like what is referred to as “Swiss” sanding paper in carving circles, but it sure looks like Klingspor Gold to me! The cone sanders let you easily sand corners and crevices and Wanda Marsh uses this one to shape flower petals on the realistic flowers she carves. The smaller point lets you get into areas around eyes and noses, and the wider areas can smooth flats and valleys.
The gugasanders were created by Bob and Josh Guge who carve super-realistic wildlife. They have very fine points and I use them for sanding eyeballs and other tiny areas. They are the fineist of the fine and I generally use the 180 grit for shaping and smoothing. The smallest have the screw mandrels and the larger have the split mandrel. I just started using these and I really like them a bunch. They are a little more expensive than the Marsh sander to use, but they do a job that none of the others can. Nice!
You can also use the split mandrels to roll your own cone sander by inserting the paper in the split and wrapping it in a spiral around in the proper direction and securing with masking tape at the bottom.
And last of all is the Sand-o-Flex sander! I have this mounted to a motor on my bench and filled with 320 grit paper. It does a great job of final smoothing for most of my carvings. You have to be careful and support delicate areas with your fingers to prevent them from being broken, but it does a nice job for most areas.
I also use a home-built disc sander on my lathe for sanding edges on my bases and flats on carvings that have pieces to be joined. My little 1” belt sander is used for some sharpening duties but not much else!
-- Mike P., Arkansas, http://mpounders1.blogspot.com